There isn’t anyone alive who fought in the Great War.
The war, also known as the First World War, started on 4th August 1914 after different countries took sides following the killing of an Austrian ruler whilst on a visit to Sarajevo in the modern-day country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Austrians, and Germany, blamed Russia. Russia was allied with France and Britain. Because Britain was involved, soldiers from New Zealand and Australia came across to fight for the Allies – most famously at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915. Ten percent of New Zealand’s population (100 000 people) went to war.
The last man who fought in the trenches in Europe was the Englishman Harry Patch. He died in 2009 at the age of 111 years old. With him went the last living memory of what happened.
But we do have writing, photographs and art from those who saw first hand what went on one hundred years ago. This is how we can keep the memory alive and remember those who fought from all over the world, giving their lives in the service of their countries. Over 10 million soldiers were killed in the four years of the First World War. That’s over two and a half times the entire population of New Zealand.
Artists and poets who recorded what the Great War was like hoped that their writing and painting would do let people know exactly how horrific war was. Paul Nash was a soldier and painter. He wasn’t allowed to paint dead bodies on the battlefield, and so he painted trees instead and made them represent bodies.
Poets like Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Thomas wrote honestly about what they saw, and used some frightening language to describe the battlefields and the fighting. Many artists and poets since have written about, painted or photographed war from all corners of the globe.
The Great War was terrible, as is every war and conflict. At any given moment there is a war going on somewhere in the world. The First World War needs remembering, but the best way to commemorate war is to not repeat it.
From ‘Ode of Remembrance’ by Lawrence Binyon
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Article written by Ben Egerton
[colored_box color=”green”]This is an opinion-based article designed to provoke debate, discussion and further inquiry
amongst your students:[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”yellow”]Critical Thinking Challenges:
1. Why is important to remember the Great War?
2. “The best way to commemorate war is not to repeat it”. Is that possible? How can wars be avoided? Should wars be avoided?
[colored_box color=”green”]Practical Tasks:
Using the library or internet, look up some of the art of Paul Nash and read some of the war poetry from the poets listed in the article. You might discover other artists, writers and poets whose work you can share with your classmates.